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What’s gaslighting? 心理操纵

中国日报网 2019-05-14 11:24


Reader question:

Please explain “spin and gaslighting”, as in “in this age of denial, spin and gaslighting”. Particularly, what’s gaslighting?

My comments:

First of all, “this age” may well be now, right now, and the topic may be pertaining to climate change or Donald Trump’s administration in general.

Trump, you see, has told more than 10,000 lies so far (crossing the 10,000-lie threshold on April 27, 2019, according to the Washington Post).

So far and counting.

In terms of climate change, on the other hand, those who deny that this is happening usually belong to the group that engages in “denial, spin and gaslighting”.

Denial, of course, means they simply deny this is happening. They deny that the Earth is hotting up and that humans have something to do with it.


Well, this means they’ll spin the issue round and round so that the issue in question becomes blurry, confusing and unclear – much in the same way, you see, a person who spins round and round and soon enough gets dizzy. They’ll say, for example, the earth is cooling because this past winter, there was a huge snowfall. Or they’ll say, for example, melting ice in the Arctic is a good thing. Why, it’ll open new shipping routes, thus cut travel time by ship from Asia to North America.


People who try to gaslight others are the worst and most crafty, insidious and vicious of all liars. Instead of admitting to or denying their lies, they try to manipulate us by saying we are the problem. They never lie, they tell us. It’s just that we hear them wrong, or that we don’t remember exactly what they say, or that we’re paranoid, that we’re crazy.

Yeah, eventually, gaslighters will try to convince us that we are mad and irrational, so irrational that we’re not able to take care of ourselves, that we’d better leave everything to them and for them to control our lives.

Gaslighting as an idiom derives from a play of the same title. This explanation, from Britanica.com:

Gaslighting, an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.

As part of the process, the victim’s self-esteem is severely damaged, and he becomes additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. In some cases the intended (and achieved) result is to rob the victim of his sanity. The phenomenon is attested in the clinical literature as a form of narcissistic abuse whereby the extreme narcissist attempts to satisfy his pathological need for constant affirmation and esteem (for “narcissistic supply”) by converting vulnerable people into intellectual and emotional slaves whom he paradoxically despises for their victimhood. Because the gaslighter is himself typically psychologically disordered, he is often not fully aware of what he is doing or why he is doing it.

The term is derived from the title of a 1938 British stage play, Gas Light, which was subsequently produced as a film, Gaslight, in the United Kingdom (1940) and the United States (1944).

Well, I watched the 1944 version of Gas Light yesterday to re-familiarize myself with the plot. I had watched the movie before, a long time ago actually, such a long time ago that I don’t remember exactly when (I am forgetful in this case) but that doesn’t matter. I actually don’t mind watching this movie starring Ingrid Bergman again. She was (and remains) one of my favourite actresses of the old Hollywood.

What I’m trying to say is, watch that film and you’ll get a full dose of what it means to gaslight or to be gaslighted. It is available online.

Before you do that, however, you may read these gaslighting examples culled from recent media:

1. As in the movie, the perpetrator often acts concerned and kind to dispel suspicions. Someone capable of persistent lying and manipulation is also quite capable of being charming and seductive. Often the relationship begins that way. When the gaslighting starts, you might even feel guilty for doubting a person you’ve come to trust. To further play with your mind, an abuser might offer evidence to show that you’re wrong or question your memory or senses. More justification and explanation, including expressions of love and flattery, are concocted to confuse you and reason away any discrepancies in the liar’s story. You get temporary reassurance, but you increasingly doubt your own senses, ignore your gut, and become more confused.

The person gaslighting you might act hurt and indignant or play the victim when challenged or questioned. Covert manipulation can easily turn into overt abuse, with accusations that you’re distrustful, ungrateful, unkind, overly sensitive, dishonest, stupid, insecure, crazy, or abusive. Abuse might escalate to anger and intimidation with punishment, threats, or bullying if you don’t accept the false version of reality.

Gaslighting can take place in the workplace or in any relationship. Generally, it concerns control, infidelity, or money. A typical scenario is when an intimate partner lies to conceal a relationship with someone else. In other cases, it may be to conceal gambling debts or stock or investment losses. The manipulator is often a narcissist, addict, or a sociopath, particularly if gaslighting is premeditated or used to cover up a crime. In one case, a sociopath was stealing from his girlfriend whose apartment he shared. She gave him money each month to pay the landlord, but he kept it. He hacked into her credit cards and bank accounts, but was so devious that to induce her trust he bought her gifts with her money and pretended to help her find the hacker. It was only when the landlord eventually informed her that she was way behind in the rent that she discovered her boyfriend’s treachery.

When the motive is purely control, a spouse might use shame to undermine his or her partner’s confidence, loyalty, or intelligence. A wife might attack her husband’s manhood and manipulate him by calling him weak or spineless. A husband might undermine his wife’s self-esteem by criticizing her looks or competence professionally or as a mother. To further isolate the victim and gain greater control, a typical tactic is either to claim that friends or relatives agree with the manipulator, or to disparage them so that that they cannot be trusted A similar strategy is employed to undermine the partner’s relationships with friends and relatives by accusing him or her of disloyalty.

- How to Know If You're a Victim of Gaslighting, PsychologyToday.com, January 13, 2018.

2. A pedestal isn’t always a comfortable place to sit, and Elon Musk is getting antsy. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s brand of utopian serial entrepreneurship has earned him a legion of fans—an army he has sought to activate this week as he has felt increasingly irked by another of his constituencies: the press.

Amazingly, the “media is awesome” vote is declining, despite hundreds of articles attacking this very pol

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 24, 2018

Musk’s electric-car company has been the subject of a string of negative headlines recently, including a bombshell report last month from Reveal, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, that detailed how the Tesla plant in Fremont, California, has underreported serious injuries on its factory floor, dismissed worker concerns, and left injured employees to live off of compensation payoffs, with one who even ended up sleeping in his car. In response, Tesla called the Center for Investigative Reporting an “extremist organization.” Then, this week, there was a frosty review in Consumer Reports of the highly anticipated Model 3, Tesla’s first mass-market car. Because of problems with its braking and handling, Consumer Reports concluded, it could not give the vehicle its “Recommended” designation. On top of that, the company has been scrutinized because of crashes that involved Tesla’s Autopilot feature and delays with its Model 3 assembly line.

On Wednesday, Musk ratcheted up his criticism of his critics, sounding not for the first time like a certain press-hating president: “The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” Musk tweeted above an article from the site Electrek.co, which covers the electric-car industry with a generally friendly touch, about how Tesla stocks could rebound despite “media negativity.”

When Andrew Hawkins, a transportation reporter at the Verge, pointed out that Musk was behaving like President Trump by trying to undermine the credibility of the media rather than addressing its reporting, Musk didn’t exactly disagree:

Thought you’d say that. Anytime anyone criticizes the media, the media shrieks “You’re just like Trump!” Why do you think he got elected in the first place? Because no ones believes you any more. You lost your credibility a long time ago.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018

Hawkins isn’t the first to make the analogy, but it’s spot on: 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl even said this week that Trump told her in 2016 that he tries to “discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” It’s hard to see how Musk could be doing something different right now. He’s doing what people in power often try to do, though rarely so audaciously: deflate an unflattering story by making it about the people who reported it. He’s gaslighting us.

Gaslighting takes a few forms, and it would be a stretch to say Musk is an abuser and journalists are his victims. But he is in a relationship with the press, and instead of engaging with it on the even playing field of reality, he’s seeking to alter the terrain. When someone with more power than you tells you you’re overreacting when you say they’re hurting you, that’s gaslighting. When a famous billionaire responds to journalists reporting on real-world harms caused by their companies by saying the media isn’t trustworthy, that’s gaslighting too.

- Elon Musk Is Gaslighting Us, Slate.com, May 24, 2018.

3. It is often easy to get caught up in the outrage cycle generated by the behavior of President Trump and the people in his administration. The daily barrage of lies, followed by gaslighting from his supporters is only upstaged by his flouting of decorum, undermining of institutions and the cruelty of his policies.

It is essential to remember, however, that Trump has merely perfected the craft of “triggering the libs” that the political party he commandeered in 2016 has been developing for decades. Republicans’ masterful troll of a House hearing on the growing dangers of white supremacist violence on Tuesday serves as perhaps the aptest reminder that the GOP is willing to deny America a sober conversation about anything based on facts.

When Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee decided to hold a hearing on white nationalism, Republicans immediately set out to derail it. Following their longstanding pattern of inviting disreputable witnesses to testify before Congress, Republicans invited black conservative pundit Candace Owens and Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, to downplay the threat of white nationalism. Democrats on the committee, for their part, asked representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, Equal Justice Society, and the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — as well as officials from Facebook and Google — to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

What could have been a fruitful opportunity to address rampant white nationalism online and its rising body count in the real world, to hold tech giants accountable, and to ferret out best practices on deradicalization in a meaningful way that perhaps saves lives was “hijacked,” in the words of Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. Instead of addressing the threat of white nationalism in the United States and around the world, Republicans sought to claim that Democrats only pretend to care about anti-Semitism and racism as a cudgel against conservatives. From their witness list to their questions to their sustained attack on a colleague and Democrats, Republicans deliberately tried to evade the issue of growing white supremacist violence and trivialized the hearing. And based on the pervasive coverage, it appears that they were successful.

What do you do when bad faith comes from the top?

Gaslighting Americans about historical facts is part and parcel of the grift of conservative pundits like Candace Owens. She intentionally lies because that's how she makes money. But what about the Republicans who invited her, and the voters who elected them to play these games? Although it is no surprise that Republicans actively sabotaged a chance to save lives, the most frustrating reality is that Democrats have no plan to fight back against that kind of bad faith.

- Republicans use black woman, Jewish man to gaslight Congress on threat of white nationalism, Salon.com, April 10, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Trophy building? 形象工程


Turned some heads? 引人注目


Voice of reason? 理性的声音?


Never found his feet? 不合群?